One thing you won't hear from Moby is a bunch of machines playing programmed music. Moby himself plays nearly everything on his albums, as well as live. It's standard for an artist, especially in electronic music, to write, record and perform every instrument, but there isn't much else that's standard about Moby.
Although one of the most influential musicians in the traditionally chemically enhanced electronic/techno scene, Moby is completely drug and alcohol free. He fills his albums' liner notes with essays condemning scientific research on animals and espousing his theory on how the world would be a better place if all humans traded in their carnivorous diets for vegan practices, which he himself strictly follows. He is well-known for his strong Christian beliefs, which he wears as proudly as the tattooed cross on the back of his neck. These are hardly the attributes of your average rock or techno star, but Moby is becoming just that.
Since the phenomenal rise of his seminal trance track "Go" in 1991, Moby has continued to move in unpredictable directions instead of reproducing his more successful formulas. In 1995 he released his first full-length, the very eclectic, and slightly techno-based, "Everything Is Wrong," which had critics christening him as the poster boy for "electronica," a title he didn't understand then or now.
"From my perspective it's just a little weird because in the early to mid-'90s, when I was more associated with `the dance` genre ... I honestly felt that there were a lot of people out there that did it so much better than I did. It also seemed weird ... that an album like "Everything Is Wrong," which is a very eclectic record, was considered techno."
In 1996 he again threw listeners by releasing the punk-influenced "Animal Rights," which was not such a stretch considering the musician's time spent in his teens and early 20s passionately playing in thrash and metal rock bands, including the acclaimed Ultra Vivid Scene. Nonetheless, critics, as well as some fans, quickly dismissed the album as an experimental project rather than what it simply was: his next recording, period.
"In the case of 'Animal Rights,' the two reasons why I think people responded negatively to it were: (a) that a lot of the songs were in a style `that` especially a lot of the journalists weren't very fond of, and (b) it confused people. And I realized that people don't like to be confused. I mean, that was never my intention. My intention was just to make a dynamic body of work that I really loved."
In early 1999 Moby released "Play," another work that pushed the envelope, this time to an overwhelming delight that's made him poster material once again. On "Play" Moby mixed down-tempo music with sampled field recordings of Southern a cappella blues, soul and gospel music dating back to the 1920s to 1940s. There are like-minded pieces throughout, some strictly instrumental and some with vocals courtesy of Moby. He says that the inspiration for the album was quite simple.
"I think that any album that I make is a reflection of what I've been listening to while making the record. In this case, for the last couple of years I've found myself listening to more sort of down-tempo music -- whether it's old soul and R&B or contemporary R&B and hip-hop. That's certainly not all I've listened to, but I just found myself, drum-wise, responding a little more to the slower stuff."
Among the growing number of accolades, "Play" just grabbed the No. 20 spot on Spin's "Greatest 100 Albums of the '90s" -- only months after its release; and it was the only 1999 release to make the top-20 list. Another standout milestone marked when his million-plus-selling debut "Go" was included on Rolling Stone's "Top 200 Records of All Time."
Still, he mildly struggles with pigeonholing. "I'd rather be in the 'electronic' section than the 'alternative/metal' section. I'm OK with that because I have good company with bands like Under-world, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers and Björk or whatever. But if Play is an 'electronic' record it's a little strange because there's acoustic guitar and acoustic piano and all sorts of things on there."
Then again, he says, "I can't complain because I'm fortunate enough in that I get to make records. That's amazing. That's more than I ever expected. So the very fact that I'm in a position to make records that people will pay attention to, that in and of itself is pretty remarkable to me."
Misunderstandings of Moby don't stop with categorization. Even live performances can confuse Moby fans. "Sometimes we'll play songs live and afterwards someone will tell me that it was two-thirds of the way through the song before they realized what song it was. Like we do this version of 'Run On' with just me playing acoustic guitar and singing, then bass and a little percussion and drums, and it doesn't sound anything like the record.
"What I find interesting in the case of my records and live performances," says Moby, "is how some people assume that everything on there is samples. I've had people ask me where the guitars, the drums, the piano, the strings ... come from, and I'm like, 'It's me!'" And that remains the only Moby standard.